Trinity sparks union row over recognition

TRINITY, Britain's largest regional newspaper group and one of two companies bidding for the Labour-supporting Mirror Group Newspapers, has caused a furious row between unions as part of an attempt to pre-empt impending employment legislation.

The management at Trinity's Western Mail & Echo subsidiary in Cardiff is planning to offer an exclusive recognition deal to a union with no journalists, printers, or newspaper advertising staff in their membership.

The group believes it could be forced to recognise a union when the Employment Relations Bill becomes law and its Cardiff operation could form a test case for the whole industry.

Originally management invited the Manufacturing Science Finance Union and the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union to make presentations to its joint company forum, but extended the invitation after the intervention of John Monks, general secretary of the Trades Union Council.

Representatives of the National Union of Journalists, which claims 45 per cent membership among Western Mail & Echo editorial staff, and the GPMU print union have been added to the list, but it is thought that the company is determined to make a break with the past.

In a letter to John Foster, NUJ general secretary, Mark Haysom, managing director of the company, said the group's elected forum thought it would be helpful to explore the possibility of recognition "with unions not traditionally associated with our industry".

Under the new employment act, businesses will be forced to recognise a union where at least 40 per cent of their workforce vote for it. Western Mail management wants to ensure that only one union wins a bargaining agreement and that it approves of the organisation concerned.

Where a union can prove 50 per cent membership or more recognition would normally be automatic, provided there was no disagreement over the coverage of the bargaining unit. The NUJ has started a recruitment campaign to ensure that over half the journalists are members.

Mr Foster argues that the company is trying to "by-pass" the legislation and has warned other unions not to encroach on the NUJ's territory. He points out that the journalists' union has more members at the company than any other organisation. He insists the NUJ is not prepared to take part in a "beauty contest" to see which union meets with management's approval. Mr Haysom insists, however, that the initiative came from the elected company forum.

In a statement last night Mr Haysom insisted the invitations to the MSF and the AEEU had been extended by the elected forum because it wanted to ensure that any bargaining structure was not fragmented. The forum wanted to explore the benefits or otherwise of a single union agreement. It also wanted to preserve "the unity of approach and purpose that had served the company so well over the last six years".

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